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Obama To Name National Security Team

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Obama To Name National Security Team

Politics

Obama To Name National Security Team

Obama To Name National Security Team

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President-elect Barack Obama is set to announce his national security team Monday. The list of people will be familiar to many Americans. Hillary Clinton is expected to be named secretary of state.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne at NPR West.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in New York. This is the day that New York's junior senator is expected to embrace a job in the Cabinet. President-elect Barack Obama plans to announce key appointments for national security and foreign policy.

MONTAGNE: And those choices are likely to include Senator Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts, who's watching the Cabinet choices, joins us now. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, how have people responded in the days since Hillary Clinton's name first came up and has been much talked about, of course?

ROBERTS: Much talked about. Well, in a recent ABC News poll, 66 percent say they approve of her being named as secretary of state. That includes 88 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of Republicans, which is a - even though it sounds like a low number, it's actually a pretty strong number for Republicans endorsing Hillary Clinton. And the strong approval is much higher than the strong disapproval of her being named. So that's in the general public.

Much more important, though, Renee, is the United States Senate, which, of course, would be in the position to confirm her. And Republicans in the Senate, Republicans who are in foreign policy positions in the Senate on the Foreign Relations Committee and have speaking about these issues for a while have overwhelmingly endorsed her. Lindsey Graham, John Warner, Richard Lugar - who was for a while chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee - have all said that they think it's a very fine appointment. Lugar expressed some concerns about Bill Clinton's involvement around the world, but said he will definitely be voting for Hillary Clinton.

MONTAGNE: Well, good news for the Obama administration. Why, though, is this happening this way - this level of support?

ROBERTS: Because the Senate is the Senate. And, you know, we talk about it as the most exclusive club and all of that. And it's true. I mean, it's only a hundred people. They do see each other all the time. They work together. And Hillary Clinton has been especially good at working across party lines with a lot of these people, particularly Lindsey Graham and that group. And there's a rule of thumb that if you want an easy confirmation, name a senator.

Now, the exception to that rule was John Tower, George H.W. Bush's first pick for secretary of defense, who was a senator from Texas. And the reason that he was not confirmed was because of the way he had behaved in the Senate. So it was really the exception that did prove the rule. Senators didn't like him because he had been rude to some senior senators, and they didn't feel he was very much a nice member of the club. But if you want to get a confirmation, name a senator. That pretty much works.

MONTAGNE: Well, Cokie, among the other names or appointments being named today, one is a name we know well from the current administration, President Bush's own secretary of defense, Robert Gates. How's that likely to go over with Obama partisans?

ROBERTS: Well, you're hearing some liberal commentators upset about it, saying that somebody who was against the Iraq war to begin with should be in this Cabinet in a national security position. And the question is, where's the change? And it's true that there are no new people here coming to Washington, with the exception of Janet Napolitano, the Arizona governor, who is expected to go to the Department of Homeland Security. The others are familiar in Washington: Eric Holder to Justice, Susan Rice to the United Nations, and Jim Jones, General Jim Jones, to the National Security Council. These are all old hands in Washington.

But Bob Gates is a very interesting character, Renee. He has over the last year or so been out on the hustings, really out talking to people about public diplomacy and saying how important the State Department's role is and how much more important it can be than what the Defense Department is doing when it comes to United States security. So I think that you will find that he and these other members of the Obama team are singing from the same book, that they are not going to be rivals of each other, even though this series of picks has put Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals" back on the bestseller list.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much for joining us.

ROBERTS: OK.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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Obama Names Hillary Clinton, Gates To Cabinet

NPR's Tom Gjelten and Renee Montagne discuss Obama's selections on 'Morning Edition'

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President-elect Obama arrives to announce Sen. Hillary Clinton as his choice for secretary of state. i

President-elect Obama arrives to announce Sen. Hillary Clinton (left) as his choice for secretary of state during a news conference in Chicago, as retired Gen. Jim Jones and Vice President-Elect Biden (right) look on. Jim Watson/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jim Watson/Getty Images
President-elect Obama arrives to announce Sen. Hillary Clinton as his choice for secretary of state.

President-elect Obama arrives to announce Sen. Hillary Clinton (left) as his choice for secretary of state during a news conference in Chicago, as retired Gen. Jim Jones and Vice President-Elect Biden (right) look on.

Jim Watson/Getty Images

Focus On National Security

Obama's News Conference

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NPR Analysis

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President-elect Barack Obama introduced Sen. Hillary Clinton, his archrival in the 2008 Democratic presidential race, as his secretary of state on Monday.

"I have known Hillary Clinton as a friend, a colleague, a source of counsel, and as a campaign opponent. She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and toughness, and a remarkable work ethic," said Obama, speaking at a news conference in Chicago where he has been managing his transition. "Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances."

In introducing his national security team, Obama said he will keep Robert Gates as secretary of defense. "I will be giving Secretary Gates and our military a new mission as soon as I take office: responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control," Obama said.

A reporter later asked about Obama's plans to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq in 16 months after his inauguration on Jan. 20.

Obama replied, "I said that I would remove our combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, with the understanding that it might be necessary — likely to be necessary — to maintain a residual force to provide potential training, logistical support, to protect our civilians in Iraq."

The president-elect also formally nominated Eric Holder as attorney general, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations. Obama named retired Gen. Jim Jones as his national security adviser.

By choosing Clinton as his secretary of state, Obama may be solving several problems. Because of her long, variegated political experience, Clinton advocates say, the former first lady is one of the most qualified people for the top diplomatic position.

Political observers also believe that Clinton's inclusion in Obama's inner circle goes a long way toward salving the disappointment of many Democrats who preferred Clinton over Obama.

And by bringing Clinton into his Cabinet, Obama removes a possibly prickly opponent from the Senate floor. "Clinton is giving up her independent political base by being taken out of the Senate," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "She is now under his thumb."

The recurring theme of the news conference was two-pronged: The U.S. faces a vast number of threats, and it will take a concerted national effort and cooperation with other nations to address those threats.

After the announcement, Obama asked the members of his new team to say a few words each.

A smiling Clinton said, "I will give this assignment, your administration and our country my all." She thanked her New York constituents. She also said the U.S. must be "a force for positive change."

Striking the major notes of the day, Clinton emphasized that the U.S. must develop "more partners" and "fewer adversaries."

As Americans watched Obama on TV, his face was framed by his challenges: In a small box in the corner of the screen, the Dow fell steeply; in the news crawl along the bottom, there were headlines of increasing tensions between India and Pakistan.

Answering questions following the announcements, Obama spoke of the danger of "groupthink" in the White House and said he looks forward to vigorous debate among his advisers. But he added that he will be responsible for setting policy. "I will expect these people to implement this vision," he said.

Obama was asked about India's right to retaliate against the perpetrators of last week's attacks in Mumbai. "Sovereign nations obviously have a right to protect themselves," he said.

"We cannot tolerate a world in which innocents are being killed by extremists based on twisted ideologies," Obama said. "And we're going to have to bring the full force of our power — not only military, but also diplomatic, economic and political — to deal with those threats, not only to keep America safe, but also to ensure that peace and prosperity can exist around the world."

Asked about choosing his former political enemy as his secretary of state, Obama said that he and Hillary Clinton share similar views. "America has to be safe and secure," he said.

The president-elect was asked whether the reappointment of Gates satisfies Obama's desire to have a Republican in the Cabinet. Obama responded that he is not absolutely positive that Gates, who was appointed by President Bush, is a Republican. "I didn't check his voter registration," Obama said.

Asked one more time about the thought process that led him to Clinton, Obama smiled and said, "I was always interested after the primary was over in finding ways we could collaborate."

Noticeably absent from the news conference was discussion of Clinton's husband, former president Bill Clinton, who oversees a global philanthropic foundation. The Associated Press reports that the former president assured Obama's transition team that he would take steps — such as handing over a donor list and refusing certain donations — to avoid apparent conflicts of interest and to increase transparency in the way his foundation deals with international governments and contributors. Bill Clinton also agreed to relinquish day-to-day control of the foundation while his wife is a Cabinet member. That cleared the way for Hillary Clinton's appointment.

When the news conference was over, Obama walked off the stage with Clinton, a hand on her shoulder.

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